Vicious Salon: stillness

Meredith McLean went along last week to check out heartBeast’s latest initiative:

Vicious Salon

“In the theatre there should be neither naturalism nor realism, but fantastic realism. Rightly found theatrical methods impart genuine life to the play upon the stage. The methods can be learned, but the form must be created. It has to be convinced by one’s fantasy. That is why I call it fantastic realism. Such a form exists and should exist in every art.”

Evgheny Vakhtangov, Theatre Director

There’s a push of new force happening in the Trinity Hall on Church Street. Some fuel this push with a simmering passion while others nurture it like a mother over-seeing her young. Vicious Salon is the result of the sinews and limbs that make up the body of heartBeast, the not-for-profit theatre ensemble in Brisbane.

A very excited Michael Beh, director and core member of heartBeast’s vicious faction, greeted me. He made me excited to be seeing the reading of Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall. The performance had the effect I was hoping for. It commanded me to sit on the edge of my seat watching two actors, Anna O’Hara and Peter Crees, fall into chaos on stage. But they wouldn’t be in this void of stability if it weren’t for the playwriting of Brad Birch.

Birch’s script examines office culture, love and madness. The language is honest often times leaving me feel like the words were taken from my mouth. There were volleys of the C word which some of the audience confessed to disliking while others accepted it. I have sworn on my part not to use the “R word” (Meaning review, but don’t repeat it!). This isn’t an “R Word” for a very particular reason. Because at the heart of Vicious Salon no matter how vicious the words are from actors and writers mouths the performance is not a finite piece to be graded. It is an exploration of someone’s creation where both actor and audience alike can learn.

The name it self refuses all misgivings. Michael explained to me it was a comment on life. “Life is vicious. A kiss can be vicious. A tear falling down a cheek can be vicious. A smile can be vicious. The trickle of water in a stream can be vicious.” It’s an observation I’m sure many can relate to. In contrast to this poetic examination of the modern, “salon” comes from a deep root of theatre in history. Nothing like the “hair salon” middle aged ladies in their graying stages may refer to but salons in the 17th and 18th centuries when people would gather to laugh, learn and refine their craft in theatre. This clash of modern and historic all pools together for a warm-hearted night of discussion in the shadowy hall on Church Street.

Enjoying bruschetta and white wine I started to feel almost philosophical as we gathered in a circle to pick at and pull apart Birch’s work. The minimalism of the performance had many haunting analogies. Using the shadows as a backdrop and tumbling pages of the script on the floor to set the scene the theme of analysis rather than sell-out performances was evident. Many people forming the circle would have gone home satisfied with this deeper connection to a play while others gravely looked onto the social implications at hand.

Greg Goriss, the production manager associated with heartBeast, made clear he was not blind to the state of theatre around him. He questions the Queensland government’s default “You have QPAC, what more do you want?” response towards the theatre community’s concerns. But QPAC doesn’t offer this more honest level of communication between theatre-goers and the actors. For some this idea of speaking in depth with those involved in a performance over drinks and snacks is an alien concept. Goriss reminded me there is a difference between community theatre and underground theatre, and that underground theatre needs more attention than it is receiving at this time.

Undoubtedly this is true which is why I was delighted to see what Vicious Salon was achieving. Both Peter Crees, a co-founder of the project, and Anna O’Hara who had come aboard last year beamed as they put in plain words what it was the salon sessions accomplish. O’Hara reveled in her previous work with Michael Beh quoting a prior performance she had done as “a collaboration between Michael and Shakespeare”. The ways, in which Vicious Salon and heartBeast for that matter function, is to nurture someone’s craft. Especially for actors fresh out of any acting schooling she explained.  Michael Beh agreed, “We’re trying to build our little theatre family, and were happy to take in new people.”

This concept blossomed a few years ago when Beh found himself in a teacher position above Peter Crees as the student. I easily recognized Peter’s talent to revolve and capture the space of a stage and Michael must have seen it as well because soon their collaboration became a project, and that project became heartBeast. The company has done many shows ranging from contemporary like A Beautiful Frankenstein to an upcoming historical recount in the Anywhere Festival called Mother Country.

Brad Birch’s work also demonstrates a diverse but artistic choice in the company’s line up of performances. Based in Wales he has the caliber of a Writer in Residence position at Undeb Theatre as well as many prestigious commissions and programmes to his name. The blends of things such as the archaic and modern, well written but still budding, observant yet creative all link in with the purpose of Vicious Salon.

More of these Vicious Salon events have been lined up for June, July, August and September so far. Hopefully many more of these will follow, and I will be one in a crowd of those attending.


2 Responses to “Vicious Salon: stillness”

  1. 1 John O'Hara
    April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Wonderful review and it’s refreshing to see new work, new concepts and great actors come together.

  2. 2 Travis
    July 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Peter’s abilities as an actor were immediate to me when I worked with him in 06-07 on several short films. A very capable actor who always breathed life into his roles. Just had to have him back time and again.

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